TAMPA, Fla. -- Russell Branyan thought that a strong spring might have him breaking camp in a Yankees uniform, but the 36-year-old slugger wasn't able to get to the plate for even a single at-bat.
Branyan suffered a herniated disc in his lower back that kept him out for all of the spring, but he re-signed a Minor League deal with the Yankees and will continue to work out in Tampa once the team goes north.
"It's definitely frustrating for me because, as I viewed things, if I came in and had a good camp I could have turned some heads and made a ball team," Branyan said.
"It's been an uphill battle, but things like this happen. It's a new place and you want to feel like you're part of the team, but it makes it tough when you can't get on the field with the guys."
Because of a quirk in the new Basic Agreement, Branyan said that he was released on Friday by the Yankees and then quickly re-signed to a new Minor League deal. The move saved the Yankees from having to pay Branyan a guaranteed sum of money for the first two months of the season.
"They feel like I've got another three or four weeks of rehab, so they've decided to rehab me," Branyan said. "At the end of that rehab, we'll see where we are."
Branyan, the owner of 194 big league homers over 14 seasons with 10 clubs, said he expects to attempt swinging a bat next week.
"I'm feeling good, but it's a slow process," he said.
Pettitte takes positive step with sim innings
TAMPA, Fla. -- Andy Pettitte took what he called "another step in the right direction" on Saturday morning as he continues his comeback attempt, throwing two simulated innings at George M. Steinbrenner Field.
Pettitte threw 25 of 33 pitches for strikes in the session, working to Yankees Minor Leaguers Dante Bichette, Jr. and Benjamin Gamel. Pettitte was caught by Minor Leaguer Jeff Farnham.
"I feel good," Pettitte said. "I felt very strong in the first inning. In the second inning, I got some good fatigue."
A projected early May return to the big leagues continues to be reasonable. The 39-year-old left-hander said that it is "not important" if he gets into a Grapefruit League game.
The Yankees are considering having Pettitte appear for an inning on Wednesday against the Mets, their final game of the spring, but Pettitte said he would confer with pitching coach Larry Rothschild about the next step in his process.
Yanks relieved Pineda's injury isn't worse
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Despite the upbeat prognosis after an MRI on Michael Pineda's right shoulder revealed minor tendinitis, some questions linger.
For example, Pineda was the Yankees' headline acquisition of the offseason, coming from the Seattle Mariners in return for prized catching prospect Jesus Montero. Is there any suspicion that he was injured before the trade?
No. Yankees manager Joe Girardi said he "absolutely" believes the condition developed during Spring Training.
Does this explain Pineda's puzzling lack of velocity in his Grapefruit League outings?
"There was always that curiosity, why isn't it going up higher?" Girardi said. "Why isn't the velocity where it was last year? Is it the innings, is he just not ready to turn it loose, what is it? None of us are ever going to know. But right now he's shut down, and we'll get him back as soon as we can."
Is it possible that Pineda was hurting earlier in the spring and didn't inform team officials?
Girardi couldn't say one way or the other, but observed he understood why a youngster would be reluctant to ask out while vying for a spot in the rotation.
"That's the competitiveness and the desire to be in the big leagues ... Kids don't dream about playing in Triple-A," said Girardi.
Last season, Phil Hughes came down with shoulder tendinitis after going from 105 1/3 innings pitched in 2009 to 176 1/3 in 2010. Could Pineda be going through the same thing after jumping from 139 1/3 innings in 2010 to 171 last season?
"I think there's something to it. I think you have to be careful and protect players as they're maturing physically and they're making innings jumps," Girardi said. "Because a lot of times, it's the wear and tear over time that really gets you. It's probably similar to if you run a mile, a mile, a mile. And then you run a marathon. You're probably not going to feel the same as if you ran a mile. That's the bottom line. So you try to gradually increase, like you would with any activity."
Still, Girardi noted that it could have been any number of other things, including trying too hard to regain his velocity, a mechanical glitch that had him flying open too early, or the normal workload of Spring Training.
The bottom line, though, is that the news was about as good as it could have been under the circumstances.
"I'm very relieved, because the rest of the MRI came out good," Girardi said. "We'll be conservative and make sure when he goes back out, he feels good. That would be the smart thing to do."
Cabral has stress fracture on left elbow
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Left-hander Cesar Cabral, who appeared to be on the cusp of making the Opening Day roster, has a stress fracture at the tip of his left elbow, the Yankees announced Saturday.
Cabral was examined by Dr. Daniel Murphy and received an X-ray, MRI and CT scan. His elbow was placed in a splint. No treatment plan has been formulated at this point, but he will open the season on the disabled list.
"It's frustrating because he had had a really good camp (1.59 ERA) for us," Girardi said.
While the manager remained noncommittal, that appears to open the door for Clay Rapada to make the team as the second lefty reliever along with Boone Logan. He gave up a home run in one-third of an inning Saturday, but still has an 0.93 ERA this spring.
Meanwhile, since keeping the odd man out in the competition for the final rotation spot as a long man is no longer an option, that leaves David Phelps, D.J. Mitchell and Adam Warren, who started Saturday against the Astros at Osceola County Stadium, as the candidates for that role.
"We felt it was important to keep them in camp for a long time so they'd be built up for their season, and they are. And they're built up to be long men as well," Girardi explained.
Warren, who had a 1.93 Grapefruit League ERA coming into Saturday, gave up six runs on 10 hits, including two home runs, in his 5 2/3 innings Saturday. He didn't walk a batter, struck out three and threw 84 pitches, 49 for strikes.
"I thought he threw the ball better than the numbers indicated," Girardi said. "It was a windy day, it's an extremely fast infield here. Not a great day to be a pitcher."
Girardi: Marlins will benefit from new park
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Joe Girardi managed the Marlins six years and three stadium-name changes ago. So it's a neat coincidence that his Yankees will help open the brand new retractable-roof Marlins Park in Miami on Sunday.
Girardi laughingly said the late-afternoon rains that infamously washed out batting practice and caused delays and postponements weren't a big issue when he was there, but agreed that the franchise needed a new facility.
"I think so," he said. "The stadium lease they had wasn't great and it was hard for them to keep the players they were grooming, because they got to certain salary levels. People have always talked about the threat of rain being a concern as far as going to the ballpark. So all those problems are cleared up now ... as long as the air conditioning works."
It could also help to make South Florida more of a baseball region, he added.
"I hope [it does]. They have a lot of quality players," he said. "The year I was there, there were a lot of quality young players. I had Miguel Cabrera, who was a veteran at 23 years old, but was a great player in his own right. So I sure hope so."
Girardi also experienced moving from a football stadium that's been adapted to baseball to a baseball-only facility, having been with the Rockies when they moved from Mile High Stadium to Coors Field in 1995.
"I think there's a comfort level. It's built for baseball," he said. "And when the season was over you could leave your stuff there. You didn't have to pack up everything. So it was really nice."
Bichette Jr. makes most of his day with Yanks
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- It's not unusual for teams to bring in some extra Minor Leaguers for Grapefruit League games, just in case.
It's extremely unusual for one of those kids to do anything worth noting. But that's exactly what happened with Yankees prospect Dante Bichette Jr. on Saturday at Osceola County Stadium.
He was added to the travel squad for a number of reasons. He grew up about 20 minutes away. His father, four-time Major League All-Star Dante Bichette Sr., mother and 14-year-old brother were at the game. Yankees manager Joe Girardi and Bichette are former Rockies teammates and fast friends.
And, by the way, after entering the game as a defensive replacement at third base, Bichette had two at-bats, saw two pitches, and drove both of them over the fence for homers in the Yankees' rain-shortened 11-9 win over the Astros.
"Surreal," the 51st pick overall in the 2011 Draft said. "I'm glad my parents were here. That was awesome. Everything that's happened has been a family effort so far, so having them here was perfect."
Girardi turned in the dugout and made eye contact with the Bichettes in the stands after each home run.
"That was pretty special," the manager said. "The second one he really hit. Seeing his mom and dad, who I've been close to for a long time, it was special."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and read his MLBlog, Bombers Beat. MLB.com reporter Paul Hagen contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.